Only someone who’d been in a coma for the last decade would be unaware that Macau has stolen Las Vegas’ thunder in the big time casino destination sweepstakes. But in adopting the ‘Las Vegas of the East’ mantle, are Macau’s casino magnates also adopting some of the same ill-advised schemes that helped bring Las Vegas down?
There was a time when Las Vegas embraced its ‘Sin City’ identity. But then came the corporate takeovers and a nation-wide tilt towards conservatism and ‘family values’. Suddenly, the Sin City CEOs decided they wanted ‘respectability’, so they set about to diversify Vegas’ appeal by structuring new developments as quasi-theme parks and encouraging parents to bring their children to enjoy the roller coasters and waterslides. And it worked, for a while, until one too many parent noticed that their kids were picking up sex-trade flyers strewn across the pavement and slipping in the piles of puke left behind by frat boys who’d apparently missed the family values speeches looping on the in-hotel TV channels. Unable to completely shed its Sin City past, Las Vegas couldn’t hope to compete with Disneyland for parents’ holiday budgets. And so, in trying to widen its appeal, Las Vegas ended up pleasing no one.
Which brings us to the news that several prominent casino magnates in Macau are looking to expand their appeal beyond that of the serious gamblers who routinely ferry in from the mainland. Melco Crown’s City of Dreams casino resort is spending $250M on a ‘House of Dancing Water’ show that it hopes will entice a different type of clientele to dance across the water to Macau. Opinions are mixed on their prospects, especially considering a Cirque du Soleil show at the neighboring Venetian complex has been an utter disaster in terms of attracting an audience.
So, if Macau’s visitors appear so disinterested in anything besides gambling, why would casinos take the risk in mounting such a (potential) white elephant? Perhaps it’s because while the local government is quite happy to see gamblers clustered around the casino tables, the mainland Chinese authorities are become a little uncomfortable with all the stories of its villagers returning from Macau newly impoverished. Again, it comes back to that ‘respectability’ thing. As one magnate put it, “we are really trying to follow the guidance that has been given to us (by the government).” And in China, when ‘guidance’ is given, you better give your attention.